Mark 7:14-23 “Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, ‘Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. Nothing outside a man can make him “unclean” by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him “unclean.”‘ After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable. ‘Are you so dull?’ he asked. ‘Don’t you see that nothing that enters a man from the outside cane make him ‘unclean’? For it doesn’t go into his heart but into his stomach, and then out of his body.’ (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods ‘clean.’) He went on: ‘What comes out of a man is what makes him “unclean.” For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man “unclean.”‘”
This has been called one of the most revolutionary passages in the New Testament. It seems so inconsequential when it begins, a query about Jesus’ disciples not ceremonially washing before they eat, but it opens up two issues of enormous importance, the first, we have seen, was this: by what authority do we live our lives? How does anyone know what is the right way to live and what is wrong? The Lord Jesus answered that question first of all, and he told these Pharisees that it was by keeping the commands of God. The Lord Almighty who made the heavens and the earth had revealed himself to Moses and the prophets. Life and salvation was to be found in doing God’s word. But these Pharisees, for all their religion, were not doing that; they had let go of the commands of God (v.8); they had set them aside (v.9); they had nullified any impact that the word of God might have made in their lives by elevating their own rabbinical traditions as the words to study (v.13). So their worship was in vain, and their teachings were but “rules taught by men” (v.7).
What the Lord Jesus Christ is doing is to set before us the possibility that our own beliefs and practices, though sincerely held (as they might have been held by our parents before us) are the mere ideas of men and not of the living God. Have you derived what you believe from the word of God? Have you checked out your religious theories by the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ? Have you carefully read through the gospels? Today is the day to do it. I mean this Sunday. Begin today. By the time prejudice has hardened your heart, and old age confused your mind, it will be all too late. How fearful to enter death, meet the holy God, and have no Mediator to speak for you! Week by week we gather here and we are always being taught, corrected, rebuked if need be, and instructed in righteousness from the Bible. It is the Bible that tells us how we should live. It is the Bible that tells us what is right and wrong, what is truth and error.
There is a 27-year-old South African called Timothy who is in Highdown Prison this moment for attempting to smuggle drugs into England. On his first Sunday inside he was given a Bible and that book has changed his life. I read a letter of his this week in which he says, “I started reading the Bible, and now the Lord has been in my life teaching me through this Book. He knew that I needed this, and had to be away from the ways of the outside world for a while so that I could be fully rehabilitated under his guidance. I feel like I’ve been set free, even though I’m locked away in a 4m x 2m cell.” That is one of the identical reasons we ourselves come apart on Sundays and gather around this same Book, to be rehabilitated under the guidance of Christ. That is the first reply of the Lord Jesus Christ as to the authority by which we live our lives. It is the word of God.
The second question being raised is the one we are going to consider today and it is this: what is uncleanness in the eyes of God? What is it that defiles a person? The Pharisees knew the answer, in fact they were amazed that anyone should be ignorant of this matter. It is what you eat that defiles you, they thought, and also eating the right food in the wrong way – without washing ceremonially first. That is what makes you unclean. They could appeal to Scripture; didn’t the book of Leviticus specify what was clean and unclean? “The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, ‘Say to the Israelites: “Of all the animals that live on land, these are the ones you may eat: You may eat any animal that has a split hoof completely divided and that chews the cud. There are some that only chew the cud or only have a split hoof, but you must not eat them. The camel, though it chews the cud, does not have a split hoof; it is ceremonially unclean for you. The coney, though it chews the cud, does not have a split hoof; it is unclean for you. And the pig, though it has a split hoof completely divided, does not chew the cud; it is unclean for you. You must not eat their meat or touch their carcasses; they are unclean for you”‘” (Lev. 11:1-8). The chapter goes on and deals with other creatures, inhabitants of the seas, birds, flying insects and reptiles. For forty-seven verses it spells out what is clean and could be eaten, and what is unclean, which, if you partook that food, you would be defiled.
During Israel’s great struggle with Syria under its king, Antiochus Epiphanes, those prohibitions became the very focus and definition of what was a true believer – rather as today the Christians in the Church of England are being forced to take a stand opposing practising homosexuals in the ministry, and even becoming bishops. We would prefer to be fighting on the great themes of the deity of Christ and the substitutionary atonement, but anti-Christian forces have put this issue of homosexual activity at the forefront of their agenda. So it was when Syria invaded the kingdom of God, almost exactly two hundred years before Jesus was speaking to these men. The Assyrian army had conquered Jerusalem and had desecrated the Temple. There was severe persecution, and the attempt was made to wipe out Old Testament religion. Amongst other things Antiochus Epiphanes demanded that the people of God ate pig’s flesh. The Jews died in their hundreds rather than be defiled by eating that meat. The books of Maccabees were written at that time, and in the seventh chapter of the fourth book the story is told of a widow who had seven sons. They were all arrested and forced to eat pig’s meat. They refused, and so the first had his tongue cut out and his hands and feet cut off; he was then slowly burnt to death. The second was scalped, and so on, all seven boys were tortured to death while their old mother had to look on. She encouraged her sons to endure. They all died rather than eat unclean meat. Every Jew in Galilee knew that legend. That mother was Joan of Arc for this generation two hundred years later because they were now under the dominion of Rome. What made a person unclean? Eating the prescribed unclean foods, or eating clean foods without first the ceremonial washings. With that belief the Pharisees sought to rub raw the consciences of the people of Galilee.
Notice how the Lord Jesus answers this question of what makes us unclean in the sight of God. Mark skillfully builds up the significance of this occasion. We are told, for example, that Jesus called the crowd to him. He didn’t want them to be in the dark about this: “Gather around please!” Then the Lord commences his words to them like this, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this” (v.14). This is obviously the preface for an important pronouncement. You do know this fact, don’t you, that not everything contained in the Bible is equally important? It is all inspired by God, but some of it is more important for the earlier dispensation and for different functions. For example, the six chapters that begin the first book of Chronicles are not remotely as important as the six chapters of the letter to the Ephesians. Those Old Testament lists of names teach a couple of basic lessons. They are the molehills of the Bible while Ephesians is the Himalayan range of Scripture. So it was with the Lord Jesus’ words: they were not all equally important. That is why we have preserved for us only a millionth part of what he said during his 33 years. Christ did not say, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this . . . Herod is a fox.” He did say, “that fox Herod,” but without any preamble. It was a throwaway line, though true and inspired, about the cunning and cruelty of that king. But there were other words of Jesus which are of awesome significance which he might introduce in this manner: “Verily, verily I say unto you,” and the words of his that follow such an introduction we must know and understand and then do whatever Jesus says.
I have been reading Luther’s Tabletalk this past week, his comments at table with his guests and students, many of which came to be written down. He was quite unguarded at his own table; they were private words. Some of his remarks would have been better forgotten and certainly left unrecorded. You can easily destroy someone by repeating his informal, unpremeditated, secondary ideas and say, “That is the sort of man he is,” rather than looking at what he has written and what he has preached for forty years. We discover that nine times in the gospel of Mark the Lord Jesus speaks to people and says, “Listen to me everyone.” He pleads for their understanding. Then he even repeats from the seventeenth verse what he has been saying to the crowd when he gets inside the house and is addressing his own disciples. They cannot believe their ears, and ask him about what they call a ‘parable.’
“Are you so dull?” the Lord further challenges them (v.18). That would give the preacher the right to challenge a sleepy congregation with the same question. Maybe we ought not to say it very often, and we ought to make sure that it is not we who are dulling people with dull sermons. Maybe when our youth workers who reach out to Aberystwyth teenagers and are confronted with their total ignorance and apathy and bursts of resentment they ought to bite their tongues before they say, “Are you so dull?” because the children of Wales today are unbelievably dull about the living God.
These men before Jesus were the Lord’s own apostles, but they were dull. They had been with him for a year and a half, but they were still dull. They had heard the Sermon on the Mount, but they were dull. They had seen Jairus’ daughter raised from the dead, but they were dull. How frustrating it was for him to be confronted by their constant ignorance, “Are you so dull?” Christ is challenging us today. How long have we been coming to church? Do we understand the gospel yet? Do we know God yet? Do we know why Christ came, and lived, and died? Do we know the way of salvation, and are we on it? “Are you so dull?” What are you doing about it? You are certainly not inviting me to come to talk to you about the Christian message. I would come like a shot.
I long for you all to be delivered from dullness. This week I read a moving testimony written by an old lady named Miss M.A.Kingdon about how her father Mr. R.H.Kingdon was converted. He was raised in a Methodist home, and had made a decision when he was 14 years of age but there was no change in his heart. He attended the Methodist church all his life and even would read the Bible, but he was so dull! When he reached the age of seventy he realised that he had reached the ‘allotted span’ and began to wonder why he was being spared. His daughter had prayed many years for him. She had been converted twenty years earlier, and was caring for him, and noticing this spiritual arousal in his life she believed it was time to press some books on him. She gave him d’Aubigne’s “History of the Reformation in England” and Brownlow North’s “Rich Man and Lazarus.” God used this latter book especially and he became convinced that he was a sinner, and he himself needed to be saved. He was no longer dull, and he went through a terrible spiritual struggle from November 1964 until March 1965. He saw at that time the truth of these words we have sung today:
“Not what my hands have done,
Can save my guilty soul.
Not what my toiling flesh hath borne
Can make my spirit whole
Not what I feel or do
Can give me peace with God;
Not all my prayers and sighs and tears Can bear my awful load” (Horatius Bonar).
Then in the morning of March 25, 1965 the words of Acts 16:31 spoke to him, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” He was no longer so dull but alive in Christ. For two or three days this eighty-year-old kept repeating the words: “It is only a matter of believing . . . it is only a matter of believing!” From then on he was eager to talk about the Lord and hear anything about him from other Christians. He was never without his Bible, which he read as long as his strength allowed. He read it because it so delighted his heart; it was food for his soul. “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled” (Matt. 5:6). He was no longer dull. The Lord spared him for a further five years, and during this time he witnessed to his family and showed every one of them the way of salvation. All those years he was a complete invalid with arthritis, a weak heart and an incurable disease, yet not one word of complaint escaped lips. When the pain was very severe his only comment was: “It is nothing compared with what my Saviour suffered for me.” At the end he could hardly speak at all except to praise God, then smile. His dullness had ended. Now in glory dullness is for ever banished.
So what did the Lord say to these people in answer to the question, “What makes a person unclean?” Two things:
1. NOTHING WE EAT CAN MAKE US UNCLEAN.
“Surely we are clean before God because pig meat has never passed our lips?” “No,” said Jesus. “Nothing outside a man can make him ‘unclean’ by going into him” (v.15). Then he amplifies this to his disciples, longing for them to grasp this: “‘Don’t you see that nothing that enters a man from the outside can make him “unclean”? For it doesn’t go into his heart but into his stomach, and then out of his body’ (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods ‘clean.’) (vv. 18&19). Nothing we eat can defile us. People may choose to eat every single part of a pig, even its trotters; they are not defiled by that. People may eat dog; they are not defiled by that. People may eat grubs; they are not defiled by that. They may eat birds’ nests, and shark fins, and elephant, and animals’ blood, and a grasshopper, and the thrush but they are not made unclean by that. They may be starving adrift for days in a little boat, or on a crashed plane high in the Andes and after weeks of the dreadful pangs of hunger and thirst they resort to eating pieces of people’s dead bodies as they lie around them, but they are not defiled even by that. They may swallow various drugs but those chemicals do not make them unclean. Nothing that enters a man through his mouth can make him ‘unclean’ and beyond the reach of redeeming grace, Isn’t this exactly what Jesus teaches these men? What you eat goes into your stomach and finally the body evacuates it. You cannot be defiled by one kind of food as over against another. All foods are ‘clean’ foods, Jesus says (v.19).
For these sons of the Maccabees it was a revolutionary statement. It seemed to go against the Old Testament. It certainly went against their distinctiveness as Jews. It went against all that they had been taught by their fathers. Remember that the Lord said this at a time of political repression when they were proudly exalting in their own superior cultural distinctives. It was a most unpopular statement. The Romans were constantly mocking and belittling the Jews, and they devoured pig-meat, and marched to conquest on salted pork. Here is God’s Messiah and he would not condemn them for eating pork, in fact, “all foods are ‘clean’ foods,” the Son of God says. You are free to eat whatever you chose. That is the Christian faith. There is no list of banned foods about which you must agree with us, swearing that you will not eat them if you become a Christian. If you became a Seventh Day Adventist then you would be back under the prohibited foods of Leviticus 11, but not if you are taking seriously these words of Christ. You may eat anything, more than that, you are free to eat with anyone whom you choose or who invites you. There is no unclean home you may not enter, nor unclean table around which you may not sit. You can go into the home of a Roman soldier and sit at his table and eat whatever he puts in front of you. There are to be no separate tables in the ‘fellowship hall’ or at the ‘fellowship lunch’. One food, freely prepared and freely offered to Jew and Gentile, Greek and Barbarian alike. It simply depends on your taste. If you choose to be a vegetarian then that’s your own choice, only you may not impose it as the Christian way on any believer, because the Christian way is that all foods are clean foods.
Simon Peter was there when Jesus said that to the crowd, and also when the Lord repeated it and applied it to him and the other apostles in the house. It was unbelievably hard for him to consider that in this matter Jesus had got it right. It took even a vision from heaven a couple of years later before he was persuaded. The facts were these: Peter was in Joppa and it was midday. He was on the flat roof of a house near to the sea and he was in prayer, and we are told this: “He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles of the earth, and birds of the air. Then a voice told him, ‘Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.’ ‘Surely not, Lord!’ Peter replied. ‘I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.’ The voice spoke to him a second time, ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.’ This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven” (Acts 10:9-16). Peter was still keeping Jewish food laws two years after Jesus said the words of our text. Peter had carried the whole baggage of his Jewish cultural background into the kingdom of God with him. What happens? He has a vision from God while he is in this trance. He has a voice from God sounding in his ears. He dares to contradict the Lord. He says, “No, Lord.” The food laws were so engraved on his conscience. You can say, “Lord!” and you can say, “No!” but you cannot as a Christian say, “No, Lord.” But more than the vision and the voice, Peter needed that vision on three occasions. If the Lord says to you, “Kill an animal and eat it, or pay someone to kill it and then eat it,” don’t you say that you have principles in the name of Christ that prevent you from eating meat. No such Christian principles exist. All foods are clean. It is not what goes into our mouths that makes us ‘unclean.’ You may be very proud of your diet and restraint and ecological conscience, but all of that has not made you clean. Even with that voice from heaven, and that vision, would you believe what I am going to tell you now? It did not take much for Peter – after he had had this vision – to slip back into his cultural prejudices, and soon he was refusing to sit at the table and eat with the Gentile Christians in the Antioch church. This issue of foods almost tore the early church apart. If Christ had not insisted on this, and made the point spectacularly clear then Christianity would have remained a sect of Judaism and not something new. But Christ says more:
2. WHAT MAKES US UNCLEAN IS WHAT COMES OUT OF OUR HEARTS.
“He went on: ‘What comes out of a man is what makes him “unclean.” For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man “unclean”‘” (vv. 20-23). The problem is not the stomach, Jesus says, but the heart. The problem is not what goes in through our mouths and down to our bellies, but what in fact comes out of our hearts. The heart of the matter is the human heart, and what comes out of the heart are “all these evils” (v.23). That is exactly what the Lord said. The evil that continually leaks out of our hearts is what makes us unclean. The message of Jesus Christ is not about food laws; it is his great challenge about the human heart. He is not challenging them alone. He does not say, “What comes out of you,” but “what comes out of a man.” Then he talks of what comes out of men’s hearts. He is universalising this predicament. Whether he was standing before 5,000 men, or one man Nicodemus; whether he was standing before the Jewish chief priests or the Roman proconsul the problem they all had was the same, that out of their hearts wickedness came, and so it is for everyone in the world today. This is the world-wide plight of all mankind. What is Jesus saying?
i] You will know that by the word ‘heart’ the Lord is not referring to the biological organ that beats away and pumps blood around our system. He is referring to what John Murray would speak of as ‘the dispositional complex’ at the very centre of a person’s life, out of which come all the issues of life. This is the seat of our thinking, and our decision-making, and our affections and desires. Every culture and language has a term like ‘heart’ when it talks about the real inward you, your soul, your mind, your spirit, that which motivates your life. Everybody here knows what I am talking about when the Son of God refers to our ‘hearts.’ They are all the source of the evil in our lives.
ii] Again, Jesus is not talking here about the physical world being bad and the spiritual world being good. That is not a permissible Christian attitude to God’s creation or to our bodies. They are made by God and so cannot be evil in themselves. Jesus is not saying, food doesn’t matter but the heart does. That also is not the point. If you are hearing me saying, “Externals don’t matter; all that matters is internal things,” then you are misunderstanding the lesson. You are not getting disturbed by these words, and that is alarming because these are very disturbing words for the most mature Christian here let alone the seeker. We need to be disturbed by what Christ is saying, and my vocation is to sound an alarm by the Scriptures.
iii] Again, Jesus is not saying that if we get in touch with our deepest feelings, or learn to listen to what our heart is truly telling us, we will find our real identity and thereby discover true happiness, fulfilment, or whatever. Your problem, in the judgment of the Lord Christ, is this: you have a poisoned well at the heart of your personality, not because you are particularly evil but because you are a human being. Everyone of us has this immense problem. The whole world of mankind since the fall of our father Adam is now functioning in terms of an internal bitter spring. So there is a frequent confession that a person makes when he comes into the orbit and influence of Jesus Christ, “He showed me all my heart.” When they discover God they discover themselves, indeed, there is no other way.
My task is not to help you get in touch with your truest feelings, to help you find the hero inside yourself. That hero may turn out to be a villain, a Jack the Ripper, or Robert Maxwell, and it probably is. Today the feelings that most truly express the real you may be lust, or self-pity, or anger, or jealousy, or bitterness and the rest. Where are these located? In your own hearts, and the fact that they are there doesn’t mean you can’t help them. It is your heart, out of which come the issues of life. They are saying to you that you’ve got a colossal problem. It is not a problem with the structures of our society. The trouble is not in the externals of your life. These are not environmental problems but personal problems. You may have seen a crack running up the side of a building and measuring devices secured across it to check whether the crack is widening. What can be done? It is useless to cover over it or fill it with plaster and paint over the crack. What is causing the crack has to be discovered, and then it has to be dealt with. Evidently the whole structure is faulty. So it is too with the foolish things you do and say. They are the measles spots that are symptoms of your disease. Your bad actions and words all owe their origin to your hearts. Because there is a problem within you then there are problems out here. What is the Lord saying to us? “Cheer up. You are much worse than you think!” “Cheer up?” Yes, because the Saviour is willing and able to cleanse the heart and cure the sickness.
Someone asks, “But why had God told the Jews to refuse certain foodstuffs?” What was the point of Leviticus 11? God was saying to them at a time when their redemption was symbolical and shadowy, and indeed everything that touched their religion was anticipatory, “I want you to be separate and holy, a kingdom of priests and a separate nation, and this simple abstinence will be one of the ways you will learn this.” They were in a childhood condition during the Old Testament period. So they were being taught in this infantile way the difference between what is clean and what is unclean. It was all a part of temporary expectations for the coming Messiah. These ceremonial laws were a code about him, or we could say that they were signposts preparing for the arrival of Jesus Christ and the real cleansing he was to accomplish for the world of Jews and Gentiles in the laundry he set up on Golgotha. Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. So the ceremonial laws about clean and unclean foods are becoming irrelevant. They were not worthless; they were correct! They were not irrelevant until the deeper truth that they pointed to had arrived. They were fulfilled in nothing less than the Son of God himself. Now they are being dismantled. Everything the scriptures were getting at reached a peak in Jesus Christ; from now on everything is going to be different. But the moral law of God prescribing, for example, a man’s duties to honour his parents, is shown by the Lord Jesus in this chapter to still apply, and Paul underlines that by the way he quotes the fifth commandment in his letter to the Ephesians.
So Jesus’ point here is this. The food laws are not touching the human condition. Here is a couple having marital problems, and here is a family where there is abuse going on at home, and here is a man who is deeply discontented, and here is a girl who is a thief. None of them is living a ‘clean’ life in the eyes of God. The Christian answer to them is not, “Abstain from certain foods.” That wouldn’t begin to help those problems. Why are these people acting in this way? Cheer up, it’s worse than you think! Because of your wicked hearts of unbelief, but Christ’s new covenant gives a new heart.
Let’s make the human predicament very plain and concrete because the Saviour himself does so. The Lord Jesus describes what comes out of our hearts in verses twenty-one and twenty-two. The first six or seven terms are in the plural and so they denote evil actions. The last six terms occur in the singular and they denote sinful attitudes.
The first wicked action is evil thoughts. They may never register in a man’s life; he may never express them by a look on his face but if the contempt and bitterness are allowed to wash around his heart they are evil. The next is sexual immorality; the Greek word is what we get the word ‘pornography’ from, and pornography is everywhere, especially on line. Are those the sites you visit on the Internet? Millions do even this moment. Such influences make you dirty, and lust for it comes from your heart. Later on adultery is mentioned (three words later), as maybe the specific breaking of marriage vows. All sexual sin starts in the imagination of the thoughts of our hearts. The third is theft and Aberystwyth is full of thieves. They will break into your car and home, and steal anything that has just been put down for a moment. Every week the local paper reports just a few of the main items that have been stolen during the past seven days. A purse in a bag is on the top of a shopping trolley in a supermarket and it can disappear in a moment. Men will steal copyright pictures, computer programmes, new born babies, and state secrets. Theft lies in every heart here. The next action is murder; yesterday I received this letter from a minister in Mexico named Bob Sundberg: “I am writing to request prayer for a good friend of our family by the name of Severiano Flores. He is a Triqui (tribe) pastor in what is probably the most violent and dangerous of all the indigenous groups. He has been used of the Lord to plant some of the first Christian churches amongst his own group. He and his family have suffered years of persecution, working difficult jobs while living in conditions that most of us would consider dire poverty. Severiano is one of the bravest men of God that I know of. We had a medical and construction outreach planned with him for November. I just found out that someone entered his property while he was gone on Saturday morning, 11 October 2003, attacked his wife with a knife, cutting her throat and severing the jugular vein. She died in the arms of one of their children. I can’t help weeping as I write this letter. They have six children, the youngest being 5 years old. Please pray for him and his family.” That is hot news from Mexico of the trials of following Christ. Murder most foul! Where does it come from? From the desperately wicked heart of man. On Friday morning at “Arise to Pray” at 7 a.m. how the fifteen of us there prayed for Severiano Flores, and we also prayed for that man who had murdered Severiano’s wife, that he would be given a new heart and deep repentance.
The next action Jesus mentions is greed and we see that all around our church building in the centre of our small town, particularly on Friday and Saturday nights, in the scantily dressed women and also in the men walking from one pub to another drinking more and more pints of beer. The final action is malice, and it is a broad word for those who are up to anything for easy money and a cheap thrill. They will do any dirty trick; they are unreliable malicious men and women ready for any shady deals. The seeds of all these sins are in your heart today, as God sees you. If you were in different circumstances, without the checks or restraints of your providence then any of these things, even murder, would be flowing out of your heart as they ooze out of the hearts of many others.
Then there is the second sextet of evil actions. Deceit is the first mentioned, in other words, trickery. The man who knocks on the door and claims to be from the government, the middle-aged stranger who talks to the little girl on the chat lines and he tells her that he is 16 years of age; or there is a man who tells his wife he is working on his computer in the study but in fact he is E-mailing a woman. Deceit flows from the heart, smiling with your face and hating or coveting in your heart. The next is lewdness and it is an old-fashioned word for moral debauchery. There are things happening today that even the amoral media can only hint at because they are unspeakably defiling. They shock even policemen and hardened reporters. These are sins committed without a qualm and they all have their origin in our hearts. The next is envy and it blights relationships, a for example, a woman who cannot rejoice in the successes or possessions of another person. Her friend is envious of her figure, her brains, her boyfriend, her money, her clothes, her popularity, even her holy love for Jesus Christ. It is all in the heart, but then it comes pouring out in resentful glances and words and actions. The next is slander. It is the word we get our word ‘blasphemy’ from. You hear the tone of voice, “Do you know about him? Let me tell you this about him . . . let me tell you what I know, what he did, and what he said,” and we put people in the worst possible light. That is slander and it all starts in the heart. The next evil is arrogance, and it is describing people who have a contempt for almost everyone except themselves. They may ape humility: “I’m just an ordinary bloke, just a simple Christian. I don’t use long words. I never went to university, and so on,” and yet what pride they have of their lowly ordinariness. The final word in the list is folly. It refers to moral foolishness. We see one ‘star’ caught by a policeman with a prostitute in a car, while another ‘star’ is caught soliciting in a lavatory, and there are their photographs as they are charged with their evil folly. Where did it all start? All such follies begin in the human heart, and out they vomit, and they make good-looking fellows unclean men. The Son of God himself said this was mankind’s problem, and it is. Gentle Jesus, meek and mild, he was the one who made this indictment of men and women, of you and of me. This is your condition. The sins of your whole life have all come forth from your hearts.
You see what Jesus was referring to in his quotation from Isaiah when God is saying, “Their hearts are far from me” (v.6). There is the God of love, and from his heart he loves righteousness, but when he looks at the imagination of the thoughts of our hearts then it is this evil that God sees. Our hearts are as far from the heart of God as the devil is from an angel, as darkness is from light. The Lord Jesus said that men love darkness rather than light. That is the human problem, not unclean food, and not unwashed hands, but far more serious, a heart that is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. During this past week the Times have been interviewing teenagers across the British Isles. They have been amazingly articulate. They generally expressed themselves with panache and wit, but what a picture of emptiness and despair came through in every life. The only two religious teenagers were both Muslims. One boy who volunteered a statement is called Adam, 14 years of age. There was a huge photo of him in his bedroom in Wednesday’s Times (15th October 2003). He describes a typical day when he is not in school thus:
Woke up. Got up.
Climb over the Himalayas of clothing on bedroom floor.
Found another pimple on nose – pop.
Gel da hair.
Got dressed – T-shirt and trackie bottoms.
Leave trail of cereal and sugar on floor.
Drop into sofa – switch telly on.
Flick through channels – nothing.
Mum screams: CLEAN YOUR ROOM.
Climbed out of the sofa.
Go upstairs – make a tiny mountain pass – that’ll do.
Try to win Second World War single-handed on PlayStation.
Get killed. To hell with it.
Lunch – mmmm! – pizza and chips.
Dive into sofa – channel hop – still nothing.
Try the games on Sky – BORING.
Teatime – burger and chips.
Go upstairs – CD player on DEAD LOUD!!!!
Really bugs Mum and Dad.
Two hours of good Charlotte.
Kick clothes off – add more inches to the Himalayas.
Climb into bed.
Watch DVD of Lara Croft beating the bad guys.
Sleep. Dream of Lara Croft. Lara . . .”
Do you know that kind of life? Is it too near your own life for comfort? Could you see yourself behaving like that? Why does a 14 year-old live such a second-rate life? There would be peer pressure, and environment, and lack of intelligence, and the whole atmosphere of our civilisation all making their contributions to how he behaves, but in the end this young Adam is behaving as he does because of old Adam’s fall. Young Adam behaves as he does because of the inclinations of his heart. All that lifestyle flows from forces inside him. Peace in the land, and wealth, and free education until at least 16, and technological sophistication – teenagers have all of that already. Would some new world order change them? What political changes can affect our souls? The Lord Jesus is saying in this part of Mark’s gospel that our daily behaviour reflects the artesian well of pollution which is the human heart. Notice that he didn’t say, “For from without, by the pressures of society and their negative influences, come forth an arrogant and self-centred life.” That is what many might tell us. Jesus says it is the condition of the human heart.
The greatest trouble to have come into Western civilisation has done so because of the denial of human sinfulness. Wendy Kaminer has written a book called “I’m Dysfunctional, You’re Dysfunctional” (Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1992) in which she points out how personal responsibility for our actions has been denied by this mindset. She writes, “No matter how bad you’ve been in the narcissistic 1970s and the acquisitive 1980s – no matter how many drugs you’ve ingested or sex acts you’re performed or how much corruption you’ve enjoyed – you are still considered essentially innocent: the divine child inside you is always untouched.” There is a total denial of the corruption of the human heart and evils coming out, rather, each person is believed to have within them “a holy child yearning to be free.” Wendy Kaminer describes this attitude thus: “Inner children are always good – innocent and pure, like the most sentimentalized Dickens characters, which means that people are essentially good . . . evil is merely a mask – a dysfunction. The therapeutic view of evil is that it is sickness, not sin . . . ‘Shaming’ children . . . is considered the primary form of child abuse. Both guilt and shame are not useful . . .” (op cit pp. 18-20). Everybody has a disease. Everybody has an addiction. Everybody has a disorder. Everybody has a syndrome. Such quasi-medical terminology is calculated to exclude the gospel from helping fallen men and women. No aspect of Christian teaching is more successfully counterfeited by Satan. To those who have been taken in the glory of the Redeemer is lost. The modern redefinition of human behaviour which omits iniquity is a world away from the analysis of the Lord Christ. He declares that sin comes from within, and the greatest need is for inner change.
There was once a missionary and his wife working in India, and she had become a close friend of a particular Hindu woman. She had often spoken to her for three or four years about the gospel of Jesus Christ and his power to work within our lives and change the motives and attitudes of our hearts, but this Hindu smiled and never understood. The time came when they were to return to Britain knowing that they might never see these people again, and the missionary’s wife thought of something she might do. She watched the Hindu lady walking down to the Ganges for her own personal ceremonial washing and also to do her clothes washing. So the missionary gathered her own dirty clothes in a plastic basket and followed her. She entered the Ganges river near the lady and waved at her and then she lowered the laundry box into the river beginning to rub all its sides with soap, lifting it out and returning it into the water. The Hindu lady watched her quite perplexed, and then waded across to her. “No,” she said, “They will never get clean because the water cannot get inside to where the dirt is. Open up the box and wash the things inside. You have to go inside.” “That’s what I’ve been telling you for the last four years,” the missionary replied, “Do you believe that that water in which you are bathing can get into your heart where the sin is and wash it clean? The blood of Christ, God’s Son, cleanses our hearts and our souls.” Cheer up; your condition is far worse than you think, and it can be changed for good by the Son of God. Only the people who deny sin are unredeemable. The failure to face up to Christ’s diagnosis is the supreme tragedy.
Will you listen to the diagnosis of God the Son, that each of us by nature has a heart that the Scriptures describe as “desperately wicked,” a fountain of all forms of iniquity? Romans 8:7 asserts, “The carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be.” Paul does not say that the carnal mind (that is, the mind that has never been regenerated by God), has some enmity; rather he calls it enmity itself: “The carnal mind is enmity against God.” The disposition of every human heart by nature can be pictured as a clenched fist raised against the living God. This is the inward problem of a bad heart – a heart that loves sin, a heart that is the spring of sin, a heart that is enmity against God.
Has the problem of your bad heart ever become a pressing personal concern to you? I am not asking in theory whether you believe in human sinfulness. You might agree that there are such things as a sinful nature and a sinful heart. My question is, has your bad heart ever become a matter of deep, inward, pressing concern to you? Have you known anything of real, personal, inward consciousness of the awfulness of your guilt in the presence of a holy God? Have you seen the horribleness of a heart like the one Jesus describes here? Don’t you realise that if your heart is not changed while you live then, after death, this will be the state of your life for ever and ever, world without end?
A biblical Christian is a person who has in all seriousness taken to heart his own personal problem of sin. The degree to which we may feel the awful weight of sin differs from one person to another. The length of time over which a person is brought to the consciousness of his bad heart differs. There are many variables, but Jesus Christ as the Great Physician never brought his healing virtue to anyone who did not first know himself to be a sinner. He said, “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance” (Matthew 9:13). For you to become a biblical Christian you must take very seriously your own problem of sin within.
If you do I have good news for you. Almighty God has taken the initiative in doing something for man, the sinner. “The blood of Jesus Christ, God’s son, cleanses us from all sin.” “Your sins, though they be red like crimson shall be whiter than snow.” A fountain has been opened up on Golgotha’s hill for sin and uncleanness. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son”; “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” Through the sacrificial death of the Son of God the Father has been reconciled to sinners. His wrath towards us has been propitiated. There is therefore now no condemnation, and so to those he loves and cleanses, he gives new hearts and spirits, just as he promised. Through Ezekiel the prophet he has said, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (Ez. 36:25).
Then cry to him what David cried after his great sin. Remember that the King had followed the lust of his heart, there was adultery, pregnancy and murder, and down he fell to great disgrace and grief. When he sought mercy he cried to God, “Create in me a clean heart O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” Have you asked God to search your life and show you the state of your soul? Have you asked God for a new heart? Have you asked with importunity, until you know that God has answered you? Do you have the inward witness of the Spirit that he has given you such a heart? Don’t hurriedly say, “Yes.” It is not me you are addressing but the Lord himself. Answer with an answer that you will be prepared to live with for eternity. Be content with no answer but one that will make you comfortable in death, and safe in the day of judgment.
19th October 2003 GEOFF THOMAS